Month: February 2020

Milan in the time of Coronavirus: Thursday 27th February: To stockpile or take stock?

Generi alimentari da Carrefour

Today’s stockpile

To stockpile or take stock of myself – I’m caught between the two. There’s no doubt about it, people are stockpiling, (interesting to read this in the Irish Times, re my fellow Irish men and women here in Milan) but is there actually a need? From what I see, everytime I go to the supermarket there is absolutely no need. However, sometimes I drop into worry mode.

For example, what if, in a couple of weeks, there’s no trains, planes or trucks entering Italy? I heard someone talking about it yesterday and it touched my worry nerve.

So today I went to Carrefour, my closest supermarket. I usually go to Esse Lunga, but it’s further away and as I’m not using public transport these days, I thought I wouldn’t be able to walk back with the huge stockpile I’d planned on.

Everything was the same as usual bar empty shelves where the good quality pasta is usually found, tinned tomatoes and tomatoe paste were also in low supply as well as things like breakfast croissants, sliced white bread and long life milk. As for “l’Amuchina” (hand disinfectant) – not a whiff of it to be had, although I did get a giggle out of this video – a take on the song Ciao Bella, Ciao Bella, Ciao, Ciao, Ciao – it’s ciao bella to the Coronavirus with “l’Amuchina” but it costs the same price as an iPhone.  Other than these, all was normal, just a bit quiet to be a regular day.

By the time I’d finshed aimlessly walking around, picking up things I’d never usually buy (tea for a flat stomach – that’ll keep me going if there’s a famine, olive and almond paste likewise) the sense of anxiety I’d had about starving to death in Milan had completely subsided and my stockpile came to 13.08 euro.

Mayor of Milan, Beppe Sala, has the right idea. I love this clip he posted earlier today on Instagram plugging Milan. Hashtags #milanononsiferma (“milan’s not stopping”) and #forzamilano (“go Milan” or “power to Milan”) are the way forward. Meanwhile, everyone’s dealing with the situation in their own individual way. I’m trying to roll with it, stay practical, rational, stiff upper lip, but once in a while it gets the better of me – this calls for a bit of the old Wim Hof method I think. Here’s some insight into how friends currently feel:

J (English, based in Milan): It’s no big deal, everyone’s probably gonna get it and get over it, just look after yourself and eat well.

N (Italian, based in Milan): This is serious, stay calm, be patient, everyone must do what they feel is best; better if you don’t go out.

I (Belarusian, based in Milan): These things happens, I’m out and about.

C (Italian, based in Milan): Call me when it’s all over.

E (Italian, based in Turin): It’s a cover up job for something bigger; the martians have landed.

Local Rabbi (Italian, based in Milan): Moral of the story – keep kosher.


Milan in the time of Coronavirus: Wednesday 26th February: “la cultura è vita” Beppe Sala Mayor of Milan

Cialde e Capsule negozio, Gambara Metro, dischi vinile

Cialde & Capsule, Gambara, Milano

I ventured out today, first time since Sunday. I took a stroll down to Gambara to GP’s shop. He sells coffee capsules and vinyl discs. There were people about, but very little traffic. We had a coffee, chatted and listened to a few tunes: the Cranberries and Thin Lizzy and Lucio Battisti, Fabrizio De Andre and Enzo Jannacci. One customer came in and jokingly said to GP, ‘You’re not wearing a mask!’

The press is still on full throttle but it’s not all plague and misery here, people are having a laugh. Things like this video  I CONSIGLI DI NONNA sul CORONAVIRUS (Grandma’s advice on Coronavirus) are good for a chuckle. The quintessential Italian grandmother (down to earth, tough as nails) gives 10 pieces of advice on how to avoid the Coronavirus. Advice number 3: hugging and kissing should be replaced by winking at each other! Meanwhile, the usual form of greeting and saying goodbye – hugging and kissing – HAS been replaced, to some degree anyway, with blowing kisses, or jokingly sticking a foot out, or something silly like that.

And what about dating apps? Are people still using them? I’m not. And I wonder what type of effect this Coronavirus will have on the birth rate this coming November / December? I remember the aftermath of 9/11, in New York; it was as if Manhattan had been sprayed with a magic love potion. Strangers hugged each other on the street, love for your fellow man and woman filled the air. I’m sure the number of babies born the following June must have been higher than usual for the New York area – the human instinct to keep the race alive. Who knows, maybe a study’s been done on it. Here, people are reaching out to each other via whatsapp and FB, (even guys I met on Tinder just reach out to say hello), but it’s a very different vibe to anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Dischi vinile di Lucio Battisti e Fabrizio De Andre

Lucio Battisti and Fabrizio De Andre

Mayor of Milan, Beppe Sala put this speech on his Instagram profile. He opens by saying that he was asked to talk about being mayor during the Coronavirus. He answers by giving a run down of his day: he’d visited two day care centres for the disabled, spoke to Prime Minister Conte on the telephone asking him to come and visit us in Milan, he’d also spoken to the Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, Roberto Gualtieri, asking for more help, and to the Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini regarding the possibility of reopening cultural institutions because, as he said, ‘culture is life’.  He’s right, culture is life in Milan: musuems, art galleries and cultural institutions are at the heart of this amazing city. I like his attitude. Going back to 9/11, I remember Bloomberg, mayor of New York at the time, urging everyone to keep going out, keep going to your local restaurant, bar, movie theatre. Don’t let the bastards win. Yes, this is different, but we still need to keep Milan kicking. I think it starts with the right attitude.


Dischi vinile, Enzo Jannacci

Vinyl disc Enzo Jannacci

Milan in the time of Coronavirus: Tuesday 25th February: ‘Siamo al delirio più assoluto’ Andrea Scanzi

Update from Piazza Bande Nere: On Sunday I wrote to the Art Detective, “Yes, it is a bit disconcerting I have to say. All my lessons have been cancelled for the entire week. The Duomo has been closed to tourists, public transport is still running but I’m not using it along with everyone else I know, and I had a ticket for the theatre for tomorrow but the programme has been cancelled. As I say, it’s a little bit worrying!” That was Sunday, on Monday I was close to dialing the 1500 number to book a “tampone” or “test”. I had to use my ashma inhaler, the first time in a long time and I also had a slight cough. ‘N,’ I said to my flatmate, ‘last week I had to use my inhaler’. ‘You don’t have it,’ she answered. Thank God for that. I don’t, but the hype and drama here are overwhelming, anxiety causing and unavoidable. The press is having a field day. Streets and supermarket shelves are empty, kids have been packed off to the coast and whole families are taking to the hills Decameron style. There’s regional mandatory decrees stating that, among other things, bars, cafes and clubs must stay shut from 18:30 to 06:00 (although from what I read on the International Women of Milan fb group, some are staying open around the Navigli area), but if you were thinking of an aperitivo – you may need to think again. As for restaurants, I believe they are open, but who is going to them?

Mind you, it’s fine dining time for the “sciacalli” which literally means “jackals” or more appropriately “fraudsters” who are knocking on peoples doors pretending to give free tests and then robbing peoples’ homes! And IF you can find a face mask on sale, be prepared to spend an unholy amount of money. As for “l’Amuchina” a disinfectant hand gel – I don’t think my great Grandmother’s diamond ring would even buy me a small bottle right now – although I could have bought the same bottle for 1 euro last Wednesday. That will give you an idea about the general state of mind right now in Milan. I’m trying not to buy into it, probably like many others, but it’s difficult. The best piece of common sense I’ve heard to date comes from the writer and journalist Andrea Scanzi on a 15 minute video he posted on his FB page. He’s speaking in Italian obviously but if you understand Italian, it’s worth listening to. Saying that, I was meant to meet J in Pagano earlier today but he whatsapped to say he couldn’t make it because he was going to bed with a sore throat and a bottle of whiskey. While I’m a bit worried about him and suggested lemon, ginger and hot water instead of whiskey, I have to admit I felt relieved I didn’t have to go out. I know, it’s ridiculous. Or is it? I don’t know.

On a lighter, brighter note, and not because of the Coronavirus, I actually went to shul (synagogue) last Saturday morning, the first time since Jan 2018. There’s a strong Middle Eastern Jewish community here in Milan, something I didn’t know until recently. I’m of the Ashkenazi brand myself but really, there’s not much difference between us. One thing I noticed however, was that during the service when the community news was read out about an upcoming marriage, a birth and a graduation, there were ululations from the women upstairs – first time I’d heard that in a synagogue! Also, there was no “Adon Alom” the prayer usually sung at the end of the service and the only prayer I remember the first few words of. Not to be, but I think I’ll learn how to ululate. After the service there was a lavish Kiddish (after service nosh-up) for the married couple to be, with traditional Persian food and lots and lots of cakes and chocolates. There may have been a bar, but I didn’t see it – too busy stuffing myself with a meat, barley and cinnamon dish called Ash.

Later that evening I went to Ittolittos for dinner and to celebrate a friend’s birthday over a good burger and beer. And the Wednesday before, I was actually at Govinda the Hari Krishna restaurant for my friend I’s birthday who’s vegan. It was surprisingly good. This week’s culinary delights won’t be so eclectic and neither will there be any aperitivos – I love going for an aperitivo –  but now that I think of it, when I was leaving Govinda they offered me a free vegetarian cook book – so I may try a few new recipes while I’ve got a bit of time on my hands – if I can find a few green leaves and or an odd potatoe in the supermarket.

Yes, it feels like I’ve got time on my hands, like I’m on a retreat at home. When I wake up there’s none of the usual morning traffic and I don’t have to take the metro to work. Instead, I make a cuppa, roll out my yoga mat, do a bit of stretching, make another cuppa, catch up on translation practice, read for the sheer enjoyment of it (I picked up Breakfast at Tiffany’s last week – first time I’ve ever read it), make dinner. It’s all a bit too quiet though, a bit too surreal. Let’s see what the rest of the week brings.